[Outlook]It’s culture, stupid

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[Outlook]It’s culture, stupid

Korea ranks 32nd in the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index. Korea’s place has been dropping on the internationally acclaimed research institute’s list, from 25th in 2005 and 27th in 2006. The fall in the ranking reflects difficulties with the country’s overall national competitiveness, product competitiveness and tourism.
According to Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development, Korea’s national competitiveness was 29th in the world last year. On that list too, our product competitiveness is also far behind that of developed countries.
The “National Brand Map” presented by the Institute for Industrial Policy Studies in Korea earlier this year was shocking. When Koreans were asked how much they would be willing to pay for a foreign product of the same quality as a $100 Korean product, respondents said that they would pay the most for a German-made item, at $155. They said they would pay $148.70 for a Japanese product and $148.60 for an American one. This study clearly shows why Korean products have lower price tags when they are sold abroad.
The tourism deficit is also related to the slip in the nation’s brand ranking. Last year, more than 13 million Koreans traveled abroad, while the country was visited by only half as many tourists, about 6.5 million. That adds up to a deficit of over $10 billion. The low number of visitors to Korea is a natural consequence of the nation’s falling brand image.
Korea’s brand ranking is very low compared to the size of the national economy, and this is undermining our national interests.
Simon Anholt, who came up with the idea of the index, said that a nation’s brand influences a country’s tourist appeal, foreign investment and sales of its products. Exports and tourism can have a strong synergistic effect when bolstered by a national brand.
For example, Japan is not just an economic power but is also considered one of the most attractive countries in the world. Japan has become the next cultural power after the United States; even during the “lost decade,” its exports grew by 70 percent. Exports of its cultural products tripled.
Japan dominates 60 percent of the international comics market, and people around the globe rave about Japanese animation, games, literature, fashion and architecture. As a source of culture, it has established a solid national brand. Today, everyone around the world is familiar with sushi, kimonos, geishas and Mount Fuji. The high-end and luxurious image of Japanese culture attracts tourists from all over the world. Japanese restaurants can be found in every corner of the world, projecting a high-end perception of Japanese cuisine. Brand and culture create added value, attract tourists and put a premium on products.
So what about Korea? We might be operating under the misconception that reviving the economy will automatically lead to advancement. Advancement is supported by three pillars: politics, economy and culture. The challenge that follows economic development and democratization is cultural advancement and reinforcement of a national brand. When economy, politics and culture are developed together, the status of the nation will be enhanced and we can attain advancement.
However, when less than 1 percent of the government budget is allotted to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the road to becoming a cultural power is still far in the distance.
In order to increase our cultural influence, the national brand should leverage Korean content such as our traditional culture.
Fortunately, the Korean Wave has begun to spread Korean culture. The Korean Wave has paved cultural highways around the world over the last 10 years, and Korea now has a perfect opportunity to enhance its national image.
The wave began with popular culture and has expanded to e-sports, animation, cartoons, B-boy dancing, nonverbal performances such as “Nanta” and “Jump,” traditional Korean culture, digital devices and eco-friendly tourism.
Supporting and nurturing new forms of the Korean Wave is a shortcut to enhancing the national brand, securing new growth engines for the 21st-century cultural war, and becoming a cultural power.
When our ranking rises up to 13th place on the list to correspond with the size of our economy, the brand value of Korea will go up by $1 trillion. Tourists will fly in and Korean products will be sold for higher prices in the international market. In the era of culture, improving a country’s image is a necessary step to becoming a developed country.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was elected with the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” If he were campaigning in Korea today, he would say, “It’s culture, stupid!”

*The writer is the director of the Hallyu Strategy Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shin Seung-il
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